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Richard Turner (1793 - 1881):
Ironmaster and engineer

Richard Turner was an Irish iron-founder who designed and manufactured a very wide range of objects and buildings mostly in wrought-iron. His output included buildings such as railway stations and hothouses; probably his most famous achievements were the glasshouses in Regent's Park and Hyde Park, London, in the Irish National Botanical Gardens at Glasnevin, Dublin. In Ulster he left an appreciable legacy, including not least the Palm House in Belfast's Botanic Gardens.

Turner was born in Dublin, son of a merchant of Clare Street, Timothy Turner, whose father and grandfather were ironsmiths (the latter did some work on the Provost's house of Trinity College, Dublin). Richard Turner inherited his uncle's ironwork business and began building houses in south Dublin, which mostly had distinctive front-door fanlights, a prominent and characteristic architectural feature of Dublin. His first glasshouse was constructed in Ulster, at Colebrooke Hall, Brookeborough, County Fermanagh, in 1833, in the four acre walled kitchen garden there. The following year he set up his Hammersmith ironworks at Ballsbridge, now in Dublin, constructed the east wing of the palm house at the National Botanical Gardens, Glasnevin. Other projects in Ulster included the Conservatory at Bellevue, County Fermanagh, and the Conservatory at Roxborough Castle in the same county; and York Road railway station in Belfast.

The Botanic Gardens palm house was designed by Charles Lanyon, the leading architect in Belfast at the time (the main building of the adjacent Queen's University was among his many buildings in the city) and built by Turner; the two wings were constructed in 1839, with the central dome added in 1850 (perhaps later). The Ulster Architectural Heritage Society has described it as "among the earliest (if not the earliest) substantial examples of the use of curvilinear glass and cast iron in Europe (and, therefore, probably the world)...this important building, one of the few in Belfast of truly European stature."

Turner was recalled by contemporaries as a man of boundless energy and enterprise, full of imaginative plans, which he executed all over the British Isles and, say some sources, as far away as Russia. One wrote in 1880 that Turner was, "in his vigorous days" (some time before), ubiquitous, with a stock of daring and original projects always on hand, remarkable for his rough-and-ready powers of illustration of them, and his sanguine belief in them, and his eloquent, plausible, and humorous advocacy of them. He was consulted by the designers of the Crystal Palace in London, and he even had a scheme for a Channel Tunnel linking England and France, which would have been of a semi-circular iron tube laid on a level bed 96 feet under low water in continuation of existing lines of railway.

Of his many children, two followed him (more or less) in his profession, William, who took over the administration of the business, and Thomas who became an architect.

Born: 1793
Died: 1881
Richard Froggatt

Wesley McCann; Professor Sir Peter Froggatt


Dictionary of Irish Architects, Dictionary of Irish Biography; Ulster Architectural Heritage Society: Historic the Vicinity of the Queen’s University of Belfast